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Her world shattered by the sudden death of her 7-year-old daughter, Amber Travaglio donated her little girl’s organs, to help spare other parents from the unthinkable pain of losing a child and to fulfill her altruistic daughter’s dream of helping people by becoming a doctor.
“If she found an ant in the house, she would trap it to take it outside and give it breadcrumbs,” Travaglio said of her daughter, Melody. “She dreamed of a really happy, peaceful, beautiful planet for everybody.”
In an emotional reunion last month, Travaglio met the girl who received her daughter’s heart. As she embraced the 5-year-old girl named Peyton, Travaglio felt Melody’s heart beating strong inside of her.
“It’s this overwhelming sense of peace and closure, to hear my daughter’s heart again,” Travaglio told TODAY. “I think that Melody’s heart was strong beyond just the physicality, and that she’ll watch over and protect Peyton.”
Travaglio, of Cleveland, traveled to Georgia to meet Peyton and her mom, Ashlyn Richardson, after the two moms had chatted online since last year.
“I had to see this little girl that was carrying my baby’s heart inside of her and I needed to see her mom who was taking care of her,” Travaglio said. “I needed to see with my own eyes, that even though my world was so much sadder because of all of this, that some good came out of it.”
For Richardson, whose daughter was gravely ill before receiving Melody’s heart in June 2015, meeting Travaglio was a chance to say thank you in person, through many bittersweet tears.
“I was so happy to put my arms around her and let her know we’re here for her and we love her,” said Richardson, of Conyers, Georgia. “She’s definitely a part of our family. We’re so grateful for the decision she made for us at such a hard time. Her daughter had just passed away, and for her to make that decision to donate her daughter’s organs, it was so courageous.”
From early on, Melody was a generous person, volunteering to help animals in need as a toddler. “By the time she was 2, she could bottle feed a whole litter of kittens,” her mom said. A former preemie herself, Melody loved to knit and made hats for premature babies in the hospital.
“She wanted to be a doctor in outer space and take care of sick astronauts and aliens, and do ballet on the weekends,” Travaglio said.
To carry on Melody’s legacy, she donated all of her daughter’s organs.
“I never, ever wanted another parent to feel the way I felt, knowing that I was never going to get to hold my daughter again,” she said.
“I had to honor Melody’s giving spirit,” Travaglio added. “She wanted to be a doctor and save people. That was her life dream. There was a lot of life dreams she got cheated out of, but she got to save people.”
On June 7, 2015, Melody planned her eighth birthday party, played in the sprinkler, and requested a grilled cheese for dinner.
That night, Travaglio awoke to find Melody, who had mild asthma, limp on the bathroom floor; she wasn’t breathing. A registered nurse, Travaglio performed CPR and called for an ambulance.
Melody had suffered an asphyxic asthma attack, a sudden closure of her airway that wasn’t responsive to medication, her mom said, and the family hoped for a miracle. Melody died on June 9.
“Your whole world crumbles in the blink of an eye,” Travaglio said. “You instantly know there’ll never be another moment of pure joy in your life.”
On the day Travaglio said goodbye to Melody, Peyton turned 4 in an Atlanta hospital.
Peyton was hospitalized in January 2015 with acute myocarditis, which doctors said stemmed from a cold virus. Her heart was so badly damaged, the family was told, that she needed a new one, but was too sick for a transplant.
A breathing tube and an artificial heart pump helped keep her alive, and Peyton suffered two massive strokes that left her unable to walk or talk. Doctors told her mom she had a 3 percent chance of survival.
Eventually, though, Peyton was breathing on her own and showing other signs of recovery. She was put on the transplant list on June 1, 2015. Within two weeks, the family received a call about a possible heart, Melody’s heart.
Peyton underwent successful transplant surgery on June 12. She has impaired vision and slight cognitive delays, but has made an unexpected yet remarkable recovery, her mom said. Now in kindergarten, she is talking, running and jumping.
Both mothers hope their story will lead others to consider organ donation.
“It gave her a second chance at life,” Richardson said of her daughter’s new heart. “Without organ donation, she would probably not be here right now.”
TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter: @lisaflam